One famous and classic example of a fishery management change due to the ecology of a river is Kelly Creek in Northern Idaho. Known for its world class West Slope Cutthroat Trout fishing, the stream was almost fished out in the 60s. Characteristic of most of the streams in the region, it is very cold, very clear, and very unproductive. It's not capable of growing fish very fast, but it is capable of holding a lot of fish, and they can reach good sizes. Allowing a large harvest caused the population to plummet due to over fishing. The ecology of the stream prohibited the fish from replacing themselves as fast as they were being fished out. In the 70s, Kelly Creek became one of the first catch and release only streams in Idaho, and since then the population has rebounded amazingly. Catch and release regs may have been the answer to Kelly Creek, but its not the answer everywhere.
Everyone knows that Brook Trout, left to their own devices will reach that critical point where they surpass the systems carrying capacity. The result are the famous big-headed, skinny-bodied, snake trout. That's why Brook Trout harvest (at least in Western states where they aren't native) is encouraged, and limits are set high. Here in Northern Utah the same thing happens with Brown Trout. They do exceptionally well in the productive streams and tailwaters of the region, reproducing and growing fast, but without harvest they approach the carrying capacity of the waters. The result is rivers teeming with small browns, and a decreased number of larger fish. That is why the limit is four in most cases, and more in some cases.
Unfortunately, the catch and release mentality in fly fishing has overstepped its bounds. We've all probably heard stories about one angler showing hostility toward another for keeping fish in an area where harvest is allowed! There's probably no better example than the lower Provo River. I know this is an extreme case, but it does seem that culturally, the norm has become that fly guys practice catch and release and leave the harvest to the gear guys chucking bait. We expect the bait guys to keep fish, but it's appalling if a fly guy does.
I guess the point that I'm getting at is that you can choose to practice catch and release, or you can choose to keep fish when you want, and either one is fine, but the fact of the matter is that if we want higher quality fish in a lot of our rivers, more fish need to be kept! And nobody should condemn another person for being the one to keep those fish, whether in person or over social media. I admit, I get sick of seeing #catchandrelease (among other hash tags) on pictures of fish that can guiltlessly be kept, and people questioning in the comments, "you released that, right?" We should focus on promoting catch and release in cases of wild Steelhead and salmon, rare and endangered fish like Bull Trout, etc. The rest...it's FINE to post a picture of a fish you decided to take home and eat, and not feel bad about not hash tagging #catchandrelease.
The question of whether to catch and release or whether to bonk and eat can be a complicated one. I hate when people that don't know jack about fishing ask me, "do you keep them, or do you turn them back?" It's not a yes or no question. It depends. It's a matter of regulations, specific species, and specific waters. So lets all just stay informed and use good judgement.
The barbless hook movement has spread so fast and furiously that, as we all know, there are places where using barbless hooks comprises part of the regulations. In my opinion, a lot of that is to satisfy the culture that is now demanding it, since like I said before, there's no science showing that there are any advantages to barbless hooks.
One paper (there are lots of them) by Schill and Scarpella in the North American Journal of Fisheries Management, tested the effects on fish caught using barbed versus barbless hooks. Several studies have shown that lures result in lower mortality than bait, and that flies result in significantly lower mortality than lures or bait. Beyond that, there is no difference between mortality of fish caught on a barbed fly or a barbless fly. The results of this particular study showed a mortality rate of 4.5% for barbed hooks and 4.2% for barbless hooks. 0.3%!!! If you know anything about statistics that means no difference. 0.3% isn't even cloooose to being able to show a statistically significant difference. Especially when you consider that annual mortality of fish from natural causes ranges from 30 to 65%!
The main factors that influence a fishes survival after being caught are the amount of time it was played, or how exhausted it is when its landed, and the amount of time the fish is held out of the water. So if you want to do fish a favor, using equipment stout enough to bring a fish in quickly and keeping them in the water other than for a brief photoshoot goes a long way, whereas barbless hooks do virtually nothing. Again, I'm not telling anyone they shouldn't use barbless hooks, because some people like them for other reasons. I'm just saying that they shouldn't be pushed on everyone, because there is no scientific reason for it! As a friend always says, if you angle a fish, you're shoving a big piece of metal through its face. It's not going to care if there's a little barb on the end or not when a big piece of metal is getting shoved into its face.
Thanks for putting up with the rant. What are your thoughts? Anything else in fly fishing right now thats bothering anybody?